Prior to his release on Tuesday, Missouri native Kevin Strickland spent 42 years, four months and 26 days behind bars since his conviction in 1979 for a triple murder he has now been cleared of. Strickland’s incarceration is the longest in Missouri history and also one of the ten longest in recent U.S. history, according to The National Registry of Exonerations—a project by the University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
The registry has been tracking 2,891 exonerations since 1989 and has estimated that upwards of 25,000 years have been spent behind bars by those wrongfully convicted. The longest incarceration from the time of conviction until the time of exoneration was that of Anthony Mazza of Massachusetts, released from prison in 2020 and exonerated in 2021. While Mazza is white, all other exonerees included in this chart are Black males.
The wrongful convictions that led to these decade-long incarcerations were most commonly for murder, but also for sexual assault. Like Strickland’s case, they all stem from the 1970s, with exonerations happening in the late 2010s or early 2020s. None of these exonerations took place in connection with new DNA evidence. Since the technology first became available in the 1980s, cases involving potential DNA evidence had the possibility to be overturned sooner, while the cases tied to the longest wrongful convictions typically lacked crucial physical evidence. In Kevin Strickland’s case, this means that according to state law, he will likely not receive compensation for his time spent behind bars as Missouri only makes these provisions for those exonerated because of DNA evidence.
Instead, the basis for the longest wrongful convictions was most often unreliable eyewitness testimony or even perjury and false accusations brought against the men in question. Yet, official misconduct in the handling of the investigation was also a factor in all of these cases, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. In combination with some of the wrongfully incarcerated being tied to prior offenses or drug use, being up against all-white or majority-white juries and other prejudice against them, these extreme miscarriages of justice became possible.
At the date of his release, Kevin Strickland was 62 years old, having been convicted for a crime he was accused of having committed at 18. Two more men on this list share the fate of having spent their adult lives almost exclusively behind bars after being accused of a serious crime at only 18 years old: Hubert Myers and Wilbert Jones. Most other wrongfully convicted on the list were in their twenties at the time of the accusation. Isiah Andrews—who served the third longest time while wrongfully convicted—was already 36 years old at the time of being falsely accused. He was released in 2020 and exonerated in 2021 – at the age of 83.
Charted by Statista